Brennan Linsley  /  AP file
Generations of Ethiopians have had to live with famine.
updated 10/18/2004 4:26:15 PM ET 2004-10-18T20:26:15

Ethiopia remains on the brink of disaster because it is failing to deal with spiraling population growth, slow economic growth and environmental degradation fueling its near perpetual crises, a United Nations report said Monday.

The study, which examined a food crisis that took place in 2002-2003 in Ethiopia, said the country’s population grows by 2 million a year, while its economy expands by just 3 percent. Agriculture accounts for nearly 40 percent of the gross domestic product, but unsustainable land policies are fueling ever-larger emergencies in the country.

The 18-month crisis, during which 13 million Ethiopians faced food shortages, sparked the largest-ever food aid response in Africa, with a massive 1.5 million tons of food shipped into the Horn of Africa nation.

200,000 deaths feared
A senior U.N. official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that as many as 200,000 people, mainly children, died during the crisis — averaging more than 1,000 during every month of the emergency. The Ethiopian government has not published any figures.

The report rejected arguments that the food crisis resulted from drought.

“This was not an unprecedented drought,” the report said. “Yet more than 13 million people were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.”

The report, endorsed by the Ethiopian government, also slammed authorities for failing to prepare to deal with regular crises facing the nation.

Vital drugs and protective nets to help fight malaria were held up for months awaiting Ethiopian customs clearance, despite the outbreak of a major epidemic that killed most of the victims during the food crisis.

“Considerable sickness and death could have been prevented if planning and implementation had occurred a few months earlier,” the U.N. report said.

Future concerns
Martti Ahtisaari, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, said Ethiopia needed to change key policies to avert future emergencies in the nation of 67 million people, one of the world’s poorest. The average annual income is about $100.

“You have to address the environmental issues as the government, and you have to look at the population policy, however difficult it may be,” said Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president.

“I think we need to worry because we are talking about millions of human lives. No one wants to be dependent forever.”

While the report praises the sophisticated relief network put in place by the government, it warned: “There is no guarantee that the high level of donor assistance will be repeated in future crises.”

The government has launched a massive $3.2 billion, five-year program to improve roads, markets and other structural problems to end its dependency on foreign aid, officials have said.

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